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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

12th July 2013

Diplomacy and Faith

How will religion shape foreign policy in the next ten years? – Jubilee Dialogue event in London, 10 July 2013.

I spent part of this week in London looking at the interaction between diplomacy and faith. In particular, I attended one of the Foreign Office’s flagship series of debates, ‘The Jubilee Dialogues’, which bring together leading thinkers to discuss some of the major drivers behind transformation in societies across the world.

The subject of the debate I attended was: “How will religion shape foreign policy in the next ten years?”, organised by Wilton Park.

As one would expect from a cast list that included an FCO Minister, an Anglican Bishop, journalists, a Catholic priest, representatives of the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faiths, a leading figure from the British Humanist Association, ambassadors and senior FCO officials, discussion was open and lively.

Though formal conclusions were not drawn, I was struck by some very clear points of consensus. One was that, while we should not see religion lurking behind every international issue, the range of foreign policy questions that do have a religious dimension is extremely broad.

As foreign affairs practitioners, we need to mainstream religion across our thinking and training rather than pigeon-hole it in a confined space for experts only. And as propagators of values, we need to recognise that Freedom of Religion or Belief (including the freedom to be non-religious, to change religion, and not to believe) is a fundamental right that needs greater attention internationally.

The Jubilee Dialogue linked into another reason for my being in London; to speak at a Foreign Office course for diplomats, run by the Woolf Institute, on religion and foreign policy. I addressed young diplomats posted to places like Jerusalem, the Holy See and Burma, working on issues including security and co-operation in Europe, women’s rights and disarmament.

It was a lively group, keen to understand more about a world in which they have to operate that is, in Peter Berger’s words (Foreign Affairs, 2008) “as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever”.

For diplomats to interact with the world today, they need to have the tools of the trade. These will include a working knowledge of international law, economics, languages, and a deep historical and cultural understanding of the countries where they are posted.

A crucial part of that is religious literacy. A basic understanding about faith is not discretionary for a 21st century diplomat, whether he or she is religious or not, but a legitimate, indeed essential element of the knowledge base.

It is positive that this is increasingly recognised at the Foreign Office.

5 comments on “Diplomacy and Faith

  1. I think the religious leaders are not preaching against war and war crimes and sermons on immoralities as they suppose to do. Part of our beliefs is that they are agents of God to make followers have the mind of God. If they dont, they should be told to include all these as parts of what they should inductrinate to followers.

  2. If we’re to be propagating the value of religious freedom abroad, do you have any comments on how you think we’re doing at upholding it at home? I’m thinking of the flurry of court cases about issues around religion in the workplace and the mass closure of Catholc adoption agencies because they were about to e force to act against the teachings of the Church.

    1. Dear Wilfrid,
      Thank you for your comment. I think, ultimately, we have to go back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18. It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. While we can never be complacent, and debate around the issues you mention is fierce, I think the UK record in upholding Article 18 is as good as any country, and better than most.

  3. As at this point of the world civilization, religion should not be a problem again. It should be a minor issue but It seems to be the greatest issue that is causing contention in each country and globally. This is a good discussion that requires full immediate and critical attention before the next two years. By now there should be freedom of religion or belief everywhere. We are in the modern days. Leaders of all religions at this time should find a way around it on how we can coexist regardless of individual religion. If this can be achieved within the next few years, then there be peace in each country and globally. The leaders of all religions should come together, delibrate, implement and teach us the ways to follow and to be accepted by the followers through FCO and UN. If the world could agree and unite on common football game then I believed that the problems on religion or belief can be solved through proper monitoring by a body.

    1. Dear Mr Agundipe, thank you very much for your comment. I agree with you on the importance of the debate. I think that one of the areas which diplomats can explore is not just religion as a cause of conflict, but how far religious leaders can be part of the solution to conflict, or indeed help prevent conflict from arising. Ensuring freedom of religion and belief for all must clearly be part of that – it is no coincidence that conflict often arises where that right is not guaranteed. Nigel Baker

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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